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February 12, 2011


Note:  Disclaimer:  
The attributions in this opinion piece may be a bit blurred, given the decade or so that’s passed since I hurriedly scribbled some notes during an Oprah show.  I knew the words of these articulate women were important enough to want to remember - and at the time I had no vehicle or reason to share them publicly.  But, my intention with this blog is to inform, share and inspire ideas, so with apropos apologies made in advance, please enjoy the read..

More than a decade ago, I was apparently impressed enough to make notes on the commentary made during a certain Oprah Winfrey show.  Having recently unearthed said notes, I’ve decided to create a post based on this material because I feel the subject and sentiment remain relevant and worth sharing.  The following commentary includes some of the expressed opinions of Oprah’s esteemed guests, along with my personal views and opinions.  

Anna Quindlen
Deborah Mathis

The informal panel, made up of several, lucid and outspoken American, newspaper women (current and former) spent the hour sharing their views on various topics.  Among the esteemed panel was one of my favourite wordsmiths, Anna Quindlen, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary (1992) for her New York Times column, "Public and Private.  And, Deborah Mathis, African-American, journalist, author & syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.
Dream Big...
What caught my attention in particular, was the discussion about how we should NOT raise our children to accept things as they are i.e. the status quo.  The members of the panel all seemed to agree with this, stressing, “especially girls.”  
What?  Why especially girls?  
Throughout the show this seemed to bear repeating; that if you are a parent, especially if you are raising females, the status quo should never be good enough.  Children, particularly girls, need to know at a very early age that they have choices and never, never should they be told that they won’t be able to accomplish their goals or realize their dreams because they are women or because they happen to be black or because they are part of any oppressed or minority group.  
We need to prepare our children (both genders) for how things really are in the world, but at the same time they must be taught and whenever possible, shown how to change the unacceptable.  At the very least, we should arouse their consciousness enough to know that they should always have a voice and question what they are being told if it doesn’t ‘feel’ right and to never sit in silence when racist remarks or jokes are voiced.  This is tacit (implied) consent and must not be tolerated.  

“Studies show that at age twelve, girls self-esteem drops drastically and never fully recovers.”

This phenomenon of girls self esteem dropping around the age of twelve, appears to be significantly less among Afro-Americans girls and is attributed to their strong, single mothers and grandmothers who are often raising these children alone.  This apparently happens when girls turn their attention to attracting boys.  I would agree that hormones likely play a part, but what about low self-esteem being a significant factor? 
“It was too late for me to take those negative messages seriously.  I had already succeeded!  
In the enlightening and encouraging words of panel member Deborah Mathis, who states that she was raised in a supportive, loving environment, “It was too late for me to take those negative messages seriously.  I had already succeeded!  So, the point is to believe that as a woman, you can do anything.  However, it all begins with us, the parents.  Children need role models, mentors or champions.  They need to dream big and believe in themselves.”
Find your voice...

Encouraging the development of self-esteem makes good sense and gives our children a head start in the world.  If you didn't have parents to do that for you, then start doing if for yourself, now.  I was raised in a 'children don't speak until spoken to' environment and consequently it took years for me to develop my self-esteem and find my voice.  For example, doing whatever our doctor tells us without questioning anything, just because he/she is an authority figure?  That was me for a very, long time but, eventually I was able to grow enough self-esteem to ask for the answers I sought.  I realized that I needed to have some control over my health and body.  I was asked to leave one doctors office and another strongly suggested that I find another doctor.  In both cases, I was angered by their callousness and insensitivity, but I felt a shift forward.  Those were both good days.  
Stop saying, “Boys will be boys.”  It encourages them to ignore us when we say, ‘NO!”
Another issue the panel discussed was how publishing the names of rape victims is dangerous and unnecessary (do they still do this?) as it does absolutely nothing to enhance the reporting of the story and serves only to discourage women from reporting serious crimes, like sexual assault.  We also must stop saying out loud that, “Boys will be boys!” because it encourages young men to adopt the attitude that they can ignore us when we say, “No!”  Those words ("Boys will be boys") sends the message that it’s okay to violate women because they are doing what comes naturally.  Look at sports celebrities as a good example of this 'entitlement' attitude when it comes to sexual assaults.  If this surprises you, ‘Google’ sports celebrities accused of rape/sexual assault.  Shocking?
The End of Shelters..
The consensus of the panel was that we raise our sons as feminists.  No, not with feminine affectations, but with the ability to love women unconditionally, to respect and support them in all environments because they are worthy and accomplished, so that our daughters don’t end up in shelters 25 years from now.  
Let’s remind our sons, that if they do it right, they will reap the rewards of strong, loving relationships.  Let’s encourage our daughters by word and example to stand up for themselves, dream bigger and that they don't have to settle for the status quo.
 “Like our mothers before us, some did (settle) and then spent decades fighting the fight to set ourselves free.”